Eight years ago, some students at Mormon church-owned Brigham Young University started an informal LGBTQ club. They didn’t expect the faith to approve of it. They knew the church taught that acting on same-sex attraction is a sin.
But they called their group Understanding Same-Gender Attraction, using the terminology that church leaders preferred on the topic at the time and hoping that it might “give them more legitimacy” to start a conversation about sexual orientation within the conservative religion.
Now, the club’s leaders say the name has served that initial purpose, and it’s time to change it — to language that better reflects the group’s goals and its members.
“The previous name hasn’t really felt like it fit the organization for quite a while now,” said Liza Holdaway, the club’s president. “It just hasn’t been very accurate of who we are.”
While the group will keep the USGA acronym, it will now stand for Understanding Sexuality, Gender, and Allyship. Holdaway said the new name is more inclusive of “all different types of sexuality and gender identity.”
The change comes after years of BYU refusing to allow USGA to meet on campus and declining to approve its application.
The Provo school, owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has a stringent Honor Code that forbids “not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.” Students who don’t abide by it — for example, those seen holding hands or kissing — are widely expected to be disciplined.
The school has become more inclusive of LGBTQ students in recent years, hosting panels and forming a working group to study having some kind of organization on campus. But no formal policy or program has come out of it. And USGA continues to meet off-campus.
Gay, bisexual and transgender students feel increasingly frustrated. Changing the name of the club is one way members can show they are part of “a strong and resilient organization,” said current member and former President Addison Jenkins.
“This name change is a force for good,” he added.
It’s not meant to undermine the university — which declined to comment — or stymie the club’s continued efforts to move onto campus, Holdaway said, but it’s a way the members can own their message.
The club posted a nearly 400-word explanation, saying: “Sexuality can be complicated, fluid, and a source of frustration as well as a beautiful expression of our deepest feelings for others, no matter what form it takes.”